Google turns 23 this week. I was a little boy when Google was founded in 1998 and the only knowledge I had of computers came from “Demolition Man” and Angelina Jolie’s classic “Hackers”. It wasn’t until later that I touched one when I was in my last year of high school. It took me a year after that to log in for the first time. I lived before Google was a verb, so I’m the perfect man to talk about how the business has changed our lives for better and for worse.
When I was in high school, we had computers but they weren’t connected to the Internet. If you are arguing about the Gulf War or football facts, you have to go to the library and dig through the 60 or so giant volumes of Encyclopedia Brittania and hope there was an entry for the item you were looking for. For football, you had to manually flip through piles of papers while looking at articles. Often times you have failed to get what you were looking for.
St Faith’s is my alma business and being a school of unprecedented academic excellence, that meant I also went to college with almost everyone I went to high school with. Even though the college had internet, it was a 1.5 Mbps VSAT connection from TelOne and to preserve bandwidth, many sites deemed to be of no great value were blocked.
We had to use the University’s limited Horde webmail clients to access the emails. More often than not, the email client would take their time relaying our emails to the world even after claiming they had been sent, which led to all kinds of difficulties with the speakers. While Google was already a search engine, few people knew it. We used Yahoo !, Altavista, AskJeeves and Dogpile which were practically directories. They relied on humans to add information to their databases.
Then came Google and the magic
I first came across Google while on a DStv Mindset Learning program featuring Dawn Matthews of Scandal! Fame. It was a life changing experience. At that time, Google was not yet in Zimbabwe but had a Google.co.za address. I introduced this wonderful search engine to my friends and they too were amazed at the completeness of the search results.
A few months later, Google launched Gmail to the world. You might not understand how important Gmail was if you were born in the 2000s. Back then Yahoo! were the kings. They offered ridiculous free webmail storage fueled by ads. Getting the desired username was impossible and you had to settle for something like [email protected] If you didn’t sign in, they deleted your account without warning. Here, Gmail offered:
- 2 GB of email storage was unheard of. In comparison, the Gateway 2000 machine that I reduced my tech skills to had a 1.9 GB hard drive.
- Free POP, IMAP and SMTP now that was new. Everyone, including local businesses, has asked you to pay for it. There were people who signed up with local ISPs for an email package. Just like we now have people paying MNOs just to access WhatsApp, we have people paying ISPs for emails only! Not even those with your own domain but @ mweb.co.zw emails, etc.
- Free advanced spam filtering. Spam was a nightmare as most email providers struggled to cope with it. Google had these amazing algorithms that kept your inbox relatively cleaner than local ISPs or Yahoo! Besides
- New email naming schemes, such as the use of periods and underscores, have allowed users to get desired names @ gmail.com
Then there was Blogger and that’s how I started Blogging. Even though I was taking a business course, I had always been a writer at heart. So I started my poetry blog. All I had to do was click buttons and my blog was published all over the world without me learning HTML. I was amazed.
YouTube was a constant source of frustration as you heard all the positive things people had to say about the platform on CNN, but couldn’t use it due to bandwidth limitations. The University had him blocked. In the first days of its premiere, someone posted the first two episodes of Game of Thrones on YouTube. I spent the whole day waiting for the videos to be buffered and then watching them in the Econet internet cafe on First Street.
Other Google products
It would take days to talk about how Google has revolutionized our lives, but here are some highlights:
- Do you remember GoogleTalk? It was WhatsApp before WhatsApp was a thing. I don’t know how Google lost this one. Their client was amazing. I think maybe it’s because they didn’t have a good mobile client and needed a Google account for you to use the service.
- Google Images
- In college, I relied heavily on Google Scholar. Nowadays the main search engine is so good that you no longer need to visit Google’s sub-search services like Google Books, Google Patents, Google Arts and Culture, etc. thanks to its machine learning, but these tools were handy.
- Without Google Ads and Google Adsense, the Internet would not be what it is today. It’s an easy way to monetize that has allowed ordinary men and women to run influential blogs and challenge mainstream media.
- Google Drive – brought the cloud to use the peasants with Google Docs. It weaned me off of the great Microsoft Office packages from Microsfot. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are not good replacements.
- Google Fonts – Web designers use it daily, as do designers. I particularly like Roboto.
- Google Translate has always been a hilarious source of ‘lost in translation’ jokes. It works like 10% of the time and helps you get a feel for what a foreign site is, but for most languages it’s hopeless.
- If you drive you know how awesome Google Maps is. It works like 90% of the time although sometimes it gives the strangest routes. Google Earth was another wonder.
- AMP pages are changing the mobile web
- Android-do I even need to talk about it?
- reCAPTCHA – these hydrants stopped the robots net in their tracks
- Google Toolbar – yes, it has happened. There was a time when Internet Explorer was so entrenched that the only way to get visibility was to create a toolbar.
- Google Chrome – you’re reading this on Chrome, aren’t you?
- Nexus phones – it was a disaster
- Awesome Nest product that Google failed, I’m afraid
- Google Public DNS – this freed the internet from dumb ISPs who were messing around with their DNS settings and wanted to organize the internet. 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 are figures that have served me over the years
- Angular – if you are a developer, you will enjoy this one.
- Google Photos has allowed me to consume and store my photos in ways I never thought possible
Google is internet
We often joke that Google is the Internet, but it’s true. Having lived before his ascension, I can assure you that this statement is truer than you might think. You get a glimpse of how powerful Google is during those rarer times when one of their services goes down. Even in the teapot-shaped country, Google has changed lives.
The thing is, even though it specifically had a “don’t be mean” motto at the time, they don’t seem to subscribe anymore. With so much power, we shudder when we imagine the damage they can do. We used to admire Google, but now we depend on it. We fear it. Google hasn’t just changed the Internet and the way we use it. They have become the Internet.